Whether or not it’s deserved is a different argument for a different day, but the fact of the matter is that the prevailing school of thought is that AAU basketball and the grassroots, shoe company culture is what has ruined the American game.
Competitiveness and winning at all costs is sacrificed for exposure and individual success. Team play and the beauty of running an offense goes by the wayside as the ‘do him’ mentality takes over. Shot selection is a thing of the past. Fundamentals a distant memory.
That’s what the critics will tell you.
But at it’s heart, AAU basketball is a good thing. It’s a chance to earn a scholarship. It’s a chance to test yourself against the best players in the country, not just the best players in your city. Exposure certainly is anything but a negative.
Few teams break the mold of the AAU stereotype like the Jersey Shore Warriors.
Tony Sagona has been running the program for 35 years. Matt Carroll and Troy Murphy can both be counted as alums. Former Notre Dame guard Kyle McAlarney and incoming Notre Dame freshman Stephen Visturia are both products of the Warriors. Heading into Elevate Hoops’ Live in AC tournament, the Warriors had won their last three AAU tournaments as well.
They’re not part of the EYBL. They’re not sponsored by Adidas or Under Armour. But they send players to college. Some of those guys have made the NBA.
And most importantly, they do it all while winning basketball games.
“I don’t think it’s bad,” Sagona said of AAU basketball, “I just think you get so much talent on one court. Kids don’t want to buy into the unselfish. You stack a team with all all-americans. The sponsored teams are what creates the problem. They lose value when they play for sneakers and shirts. They forget what they’re there for.”
Sagona says the key top the success of his program is that they target a specific kind of player. “He knows how to play, has a good mentality,” he said. “We get a few athletes, very unselfish. We practice that way. The competitiveness, we drill it in.”
“With the reputation that we have, they come to us.”
Dominique Uhl is the perfect example. A 6-foot-8 German transplant, Uhl is an athletic forward with developing ball skills. He can hit a three and he can handle the ball pretty well for a guy his size, but he needs to add weight and strength to get more comfortable playing against stronger front court players at the next level. A three star recruit according to Rivals, Uhl’s recruitment is gaining momentum, as Maryland, Northwestern, Iowa, Penn State, Temple and St. Joe’s have all offered him.
How did Uhl wind up with the Warriors on the AAU circuit?
“I tried out with the New Jersey Playaz before, but I didn’t like the style,” Uhl said. He fit in much better with the Warriors, who base their system around playing smart basketball: running an offense, spreading the floor, making the right pass.
For Sagona, it’s less being a coach than it is being a general manager, bringing in the right players and the right pieces without upsetting the team’s chemistry.
“They already know how to play,” he said. “We manage timeouts, substitute, yell at them a little bit.”
There are at least four Division I players on the roster, with Ivy League and Patriot League programs lining the sidelines every time the Warriors take the floor.
In general, AAU basketball’s reputation is much worse than the truth of its existence.
But even if you believe the worst, spending an hour watching the Warriors will change your perception.
On Thursday morning, Louisville released the Notice of Allegations that they received from the NCAA following an investigation into the escort scandal that enveloped the basketball program.
They got hit with four Level I violations.
You can read the details of the NCAA’s findings here.
Here are four things to know about what these allegations mean for the Louisville program and for Pitino.
1. The NCAA did not allege that Rick Pitino knew: That’s the biggest thing to note here. Pitino himself did get nailed with a Level I violation, a failure to monitor charge. The way the new NCAA rules are structured, there is no more plausible deniability. If it happened within a program, the head coach has to take his share of the blame, and Pitino will certainly have to deal with the fall out of that.
But the NCAA did not find evidence that Pitino himself knew about the escorts or that he sanctioned the parties that they were attending with recruits and players. So while Pitino spent Thursday’s press conference talking himself in circles – he said he “over-monitors” his staff while also saying he’s only “guilty of trusting someone.” – the bottom line is that the only connection he officially has to this scandal is that it happened under his watch.
2. It would be shocking if Pitino doesn’t get suspended: Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim and then-SMU head coach Larry Brown, hall of famers that were suspended for nine games apiece at the start of last season, both found that out the hard way that the NCAA will suspend a coach when violations occur in their program. This scandal has been one of the biggest stories in college basketball for more than a year. Pitino is not going to get away without an added punishment, but based on the timeline – Louisville has 90 days to respond to the allegations, and the NCAA has 60 days to handle that response – any additional sanctions, including a coach suspension, won’t be until at least the 2017-18 season.
3. Andre McGee is the hero Louisville didn’t know they needed: Louisville found their fall guy.
McGee, a former staffer that eventually rose to Director of Basketball Operations, killed any chance of continuing his coaching career when he refused to talk to be interviewed by the NCAA in this case. He refused to talk to the media, with ESPN’s Outside the Lines only able to get a ‘no comment’ on tape while McGee zipped away in the Uber he was driving.
He didn’t speak to the media. He didn’t tweet about the case. He never revealed, publicly of off the record, where the money ($5,400 confirmed by the NCAA) came from, how he snuck the girls into the players’ dorm, or if anyone above him in the program gave him the go-ahead.
“I’m not guilty of failing to monitor my staff. I’m guilty of trusting someone,” Pitino said Thursday. “This young man made a very big mistake, and we apologize for his mistakes.”
McGee fell on the sword. The only way that this gets spun as anything other than an over-ambitious, rogue staffer trying to launch his career is if McGee breaks his silence. Until then, Louisville basketball is protected.
4. The 2013 title is may not be safe: In ‘Breaking Cardinal Rules’, Katina Powell named players that played on the 2013 title team as having been involved in the scandal. And given that this was happening between 2010 and 2014, it’s pretty safe to assume that at least one player that won a ring was involved. The NCAA has ruled the parties as an impermissible benefit, which would allow them to be able to rule the players involved as retroactively inactive.
The document released by Louisville has names and dates redacted, but it is safe to assume the NCAA within their rights to vacate the 2013 national title season. Chuck Smrt, a former NCAA enforcement director, said, “We don’t believe a vacation of records penalty is appropriate,” but that certainly doesn’t mean the Cardinals are in the clear. The NCAA is notoriously inconsistent with decisions like this, so predicting the outcome is difficult, but my guess would be that the banner is not taken down. The NCAA has never stripped a men’s basketball team of a title, and Louisville self-imposed a postseason ban in February, just four months after this story broke, on a team that had real Final Four potential.
Blaming this all on a rogue staff member and self-sacrificing s postseason was the best way for Louisville to try and save the banner.
5. Will this be the end for Pitino?: He’s been through two sex scandals at Louisville. He’s 64 years old. He is, in all likelihood, looking at a significant suspension in 2017-18. And he has a team that is good enough to make a run at a Final Four.
Use 2016-17 as a farewell tour and then get out of dodge before the repercussions start rolling in. Wouldn’t that be the best way for him to ride off into the sunset?
The first Coaches Poll of the season was released on Thursday morning, and it should come as no surprise that Duke was picked to finish first.
The top five makes sense as well, as they are the five teams that we have highlighted in our Contender Series.
The only two real head-scratchers for me are Dayton and Virginia Tech. I think coaches are underestimating how good Buzz Williams’ boys will be, and Dayton outside the top 30 doesn’t exactly make sense, either.
1. Duke (27 first-place votes)
2. Kansas (1)
3. Villanova (1)
4. Kentucky (2)
5. Oregon (1)
6. North Carolina
9. Michigan State
18. West Virginia
19. Saint Mary’s
24. Rhode Island
Louisville receives Notice of Allegations for escort scandal
After an NCAA investigation, Louisville has been charged with four Level I violations stemming from the escort scandal that has enveloped the basketball program for the last year, according to the Notice of Allegations that the school released on Thursday morning.
Level I violations are the most serious violations the NCAA can hand out.
The NCAA found that McGee “arranged for and/or provided impermissible inducements, offers and/or extra benefits in the form of adult entertainment, sex acts and/or cash”. The NCAA determined that McGee spent at least $5,400 on for as many as 17 recruits and basketball players as well as two AAU coaches and the friend of a prospect. They confirmed 11 sex acts, two declined sex acts and 14 parties with strippers.
The accusations were first levied when Katina Powell, a former escort that was involved with McGee, published a book that contained the allegations. She said that she and the other escorts were paid more than $10,000 and received tickets to Louisville home games.
Head coach Rick Pitino was charged with a Level I violation for failing to monitor McGee. There were no allegations that he knew about the actions of McGee. According to the notice, Pitino “failed to frequently spot-check the program to uncover potential or existing compliance problems, including actively looking for and evaluating red flags, asking pointed questions and regularly soliciting honest feedback to determine if monitoring systems were functioning properly regarding McGee’s activities and interactions with then men’s basketball prospective and current student-athletes visiting and attending the institution.”
Louisville will contest the charge against Pitino.
McGee was charged with two Level I violations, and former assistant Brandon Williams was also on the receiving end of a Level I violation. Both refused to cooperate with the investigation. The school itself was not charged with a lack of institutional control or a failure to monitor, which are the two most serious charges that the NCAA can hand out.
Pitino’s plausible deniability may not save him from being on the receiving end of a hefty punishment from the NCAA. Under new NCAA rules, head coaches are responsible for what happens in their program under their watch regardless of whether or not they are aware. Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim and then-SMU head coach Larry Brown both received nine-game suspensions for violations that were committed within their program.
The case will not go in front of the Committee on Infractions until the spring of 2017 – the school has 90 days to respond to the allegations – which means that Louisville will not know if they are going to receive any additional punishment until just prior to the start of the 2017-18 season.
Last February, Louisville self-imposed a postseason ban on a team that was on track to earn a top-four seed in the NCAA tournament. The program also self-imposed a handful of recruiting restrictions.
College Hoops Contender Series: Might Kansas actually be the nation’s best team?
Who are the favorites to win a national title? Who can legitimately be called a contender? Who has the pieces to make a run to the Final Four? We’ll break that all down for you over the next three weeks in our Contender Series.
WHY THEY CAN WIN: Because Josh Jackson will be everything that Andrew Wiggins was without the unrealistic expectations or the pressure of having to carry a team as a freshman.
A quick refresher before we move forward: In a vacuum, Andrew Wiggins was awesome in college. He averaged 17.7 points as the leading scorer and the best perimeter defender on a top five team that probably would have gotten to the Final Four if Joel Embiid’s two-and-a-half year run of injuries hadn’t started that February. The problem for Wiggins was the expectations. He wasn’t the second-coming of Kevin Durant. He didn’t have the same impact as LeBron James would have. In hindsight, it was totally unfair to expect him to be either of those guys, and just because he wasn’t a legend as a freshman there was almost a sense of failure regarding his one year in Lawrence.
The other part of it was that Wiggins wasn’t ready to takeover games or handle the pressure that comes with being the go-to star on one of the most high-profile teams in the country. That’s just not who he was at that point in his basketball development.
Jackson, on the other hand, has that mentality. Think about all the clichés we, the media, love to label the best hoopers in the world with: he’s a killer, he’s a closer, he wants the big shot, he lives to the big moments, he’s clutch. Jackson’s reputation in the high school ranks would fill all of those narratives. He’s got that competitive streak, that alpha-dog mentality that Wiggins needed to develop.
And perhaps the most promising part is that Jackson isn’t going to have to be the leader on this team. Senior point guard Frank Mason is. Junior guard Devonte’ Graham could be as well. Landen Lucas, this team’s front court anchor, is a senior as well. The veterans on Wiggins’ Kansas team? Naadir Tharpe, who was more or less forced out of the program after the season, and … a sophomore year version of Perry Ellis?
In other words, Jackson can be a leader at this level and at this age, but he won’t have to be. Wiggins wasn’t ready for the role but was forced into it.
Jackson also doesn’t have the pressure that comes with the being labeled as the as a prospect on the same level as Durant or LeBron, like Wiggins was. Every time Wiggins stepped on the floor was a referendum on whether or not he was actually a star. That can weigh on a kid, particularly a kid that isn’t exactly predisposed to loving the limelight. And while being the No. 1 player in a class as good as the 2016 recruiting class comes with a significant element of pressure, there is nowhere near the hype for this crop of kids as there was in 2013.
That’s all a long way of saying that I love the makeup of this team on paper.
I also love the way that they’re going to come together on the floor.
Let’s start on the defensive end of the floor. Mason and Graham will be one of the best defensive back courts in the country, and Jackson will be an elite wing defender. Throw in Landen Lucas, who was a dominant rebounder and a capable shot-blocker in the minutes he played last year, and the Jayhawks have the pieces to be the nation’s best defensive team. Think about it like this: Kansas was the third-best defensive team in the country last season, according to KenPom, and they get a significant upgrade in Jackson over Wayne Selden at the three.
The offensive end is going to be a bit more of a concern – more on that in a second – but Carlton Bragg should be able to step into that role. He is a decent bet to lead the Jayhawks in scoring, and there are other reasons to be hopeful of the Jayhawks offensively:
Mason proved as a sophomore that he can be effective as a focal point offensively.
I don’t think we’ve seen the best of Graham just yet.
Jackson is a guy I think has the talent to average 16 points.
Lineup versatility. Kansas has the size to play big, but it’s their small-ball lineup – with two point guards on the floor with Jackson and, say, Svi Mykhailiuk – that is the most intriguing.
The Jayhawks are not going to be the Golden State Warriors offensively, but given how tough they will be on the defensive end of the floor, they won’t need to be.
WHY THEY WON’T WIN: The concerns about what Kansas will do offensively are probably legitimate.
By the time he graduated from the Jayhawks, Perry Ellis had turned into a running joke. His hairline combined with the fact that he was a relevant player on Kansas for all four years that he was in college made him one of the most recognizable – and notorious – college basketball players in the country.
But he was also may be the most under-appreciated player in the history of Kansas basketball. The guy was terrific. He averaged 16.9 points as the focal point offensively for Kansas, and his ability to space the floor as a shooter combined with his efficiency on the perimeter and in the post made him so valuable.
Replacing that is not going to be easy.
Carlton Bragg should be able to do a decent job. A former five-star recruit, Bragg was targeted by the Jayhawks because of his ability to operate as a face-up four, because he had a skill-set that would, in theory, allow him to play that role one day. He had flashes as a freshman, but he never did enough to force his way into the Kansas rotation.
So just how much did he develop this offseason?
Early reviews out of Lawrence were positive, but early reviews from every college campus are generally positive. The only coaches that tell the press their team is going to be bad are coaches that are looking to limit expectations because their job is on the line or they’re in a new town and are looking to get credit for a big year. So only time will tell.
I don’t think that Bragg, as a sophomore, is going to be what Ellis was as a senior. That’s a big ask, and a nod to just how good Ellis was. He doesn’t have to be either. He just has to be good enough to give the Jayhawk offense some balance and provide the perimeter with a pressure release, because if he’s not, I don’t know if the Kansas guards are good enough to survive playing a four-out offense with Landen Lucas as the big man.
There is one other minor issue I wanted to touch on: Depth. The Jayhawks don’t have a ton of it in their back court. Mason and Graham are the only two point guards on the roster, and both of them are going to be starting. Jackson isn’t quite ready to be a pure two-guard just yet, while Svi and LaGerald Vick are yet unproven.
Mason and Graham averaged 34 minutes apiece in league play last season, and Kansas should be able to survive the 10-12 minutes that Bill Self tries to steal with one or both of them on the bench. My concern is what happens if, say, Mason sprains and ankle or if Graham takes a knee to the thigh. The margin for error there is limited.
PREDICTION: I’m all in on the Jayhawks this season, probably more than any other member of the media.
I think they’re closer to being the best team in the country than they are to being the No. 3 team in the country.
I think the trio of Frank Mason, Devonte’ Graham and Josh Jackson will give Kansas the best perimeter defense in college basketball.
As long as Landen Lucas and whoever is slotted in at the four – be it Carlton Bragg, Svi Mykhailiuk, whoever – can provide enough of a scoring bump to mitigate their defensive question marks, the Jayhawks are primed to storm through the Big 12 and earn Bill Self his second national title.